The chants were deep and peaceful, wafting like the incense, intermingling with the calls of exotic birds and the shuffling of the monks standing, sitting, kneeling and bowing. After a few hymns, a harp begin to add its haunting melody and wooden xylophones the rhythm of Africa. Catholics and non-Catholics alike couldn't help but join in the simple worship.
When mass was ended we filed out among the worshipers and tourists to the gift shop, of course, and then were offered a guided tour by one of the head monks. He showed us where the young monks, eat, sleep, study, work and pray, described the hours of silence and the participation in farming everything from cabbage to cashews to grapefruit, raising pigs and chickens, building furniture and running the mechanics shop. We all had many questions and enjoyed the peace of a stroll far from the bustle of the city. We didn't fail to appreciate the irony of this quiet man describing his simple life dedicated to God's service answering the musical ring tone of his cell phone between rows of fruit trees in the Senegalese countryside.
We thanked him and headed to the bus for our long ride home, all grateful for a break from the strewn garbage, noise and stress of the city but looking forward to the spectacular Sunday brunch at the hotel. Let me define spectacular. This brunch is $45. I have yet to eat it. The reason it costs so much and the reason I have yet to eat it are one in the same. It is filled with a multitude of creatures from the sea who stare at me from the plates of my seafood-adoring colleagues. Giant crab and lobster legs and tails look like they will pinch or thwap me if I get too close, unblinking fish gaze dumbly across the plate at slimy oysters on the half shell and all manner of mysterious unrecognizable things for this land-locked Wyoming girl. The most mysterious and unappetizing of which are sea urchins. One, being me, was not aware humans ate such things. The spiny black balls cut in half reveal black membranes holding down orange, bubbly mush that those around me happily squirt lime on and suck down without a second thought.
When you flip over these lovely spiny domes you see that the spines continue to move although the animals are no longer living, protracting and shrinking back in randomly in the hands of their predators. Let's just say I didn't jump on the opportunity to "try something new" which is my usual motto. After several meals watching plateful after plateful be devoured around me, I gathered up the courage and days in advance announced that I would try the sea urchins at Sunday brunch.
So I did. Here's the evidence, because if you've ever heard me use the term "cartoon bee-stingy" I know you need to see this with your own eyes. It was cold, slimy, limey and the first and last time I will eat a sea urchin.
Sunday morning several of us piled into a bus and headed out of Dakar in search of a monastery where we'd heard the monks were renowned for their Gregorian chant and hand-made products. Of course, you'd think we'd learn a bit faster, given that we've all worked and traveled quite extensively around the world, but we didn't leave enough time for traffic, wandering cattle and numerous unpaved roads. We arrived at mass, everyone dressed in their Sunday best, a little bit late. Fortunately, we were quickly escorted to the balcony and settled in for the homily. The shiny bald heads of five elderly French monks broke the line of the 15 close-cropped black heads of the Senegalese monks as they sang, chanted and prayed. The small chapel filled quickly with incense, rising to the back and filling our lungs with more of an urge to cough than a spirit of contemplation. It drifted out the open doors on ground level and up and over our heads out the pane-less windows near the vaulted ceiling. The wall behind the priest was painted with the stations of the cross in black and bright reds and oranges. Geometric patterns lined the rafters.